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Smoltz headlines at GSU
John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves answers a question during Thursday's annual Evening with the All-Stars at Georgia Southern University.



Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz told an audience gathered at Georgia Southern University on Thursday night that parents have become too serious about youth sports, and children have become too specialized in athletics, many playing one sport year-round. The result, he said, is an injury "epidemic that needs to be controlled."

"The world has gone too fast, too far, and has asked these kids to do too much, too fast, and it’s a shame because professional athletes have lived this for a long time, and no one wants to have the evidence of what we say bear the future of what parents say we don’t know what we’re talking about," Smoltz said. "And I feel bad for it because all these one-on-ones (personal training) and all these camps, all these things that are intended to make our kids better are really more businesses to bring in more money. I’m not saying that they’re bad. But to play a sport that long is bad."

Smoltz, a Major League Baseball starting pitcher and reliever for 21 seasons before retiring in 2009, was the featured speaker at the GSU Baseball Dugout Club’s second Evening with the All-Stars dinner at the Nessmith-Lane Building to raise money for GSU’s baseball program.

Adults paid $75 per ticket, $50 for children, to attend the event, which included former GSU baseball players Todd Greene and Everett Teaford. Last year, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was the featured speaker.

Smoltz, who now works as a baseball analyst for TBS in Atlanta, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1985. The right-hander was traded to Atlanta in August 1987 in exchange for pitcher Doyle Alexander. Smoltz played for the Braves from 1988-2008, as well as for the Boston Red Sox (2009) and St. Louis Cardinals (2009).

Greene, who holds the GSU record of 88 home runs, spent parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues, including with the 2001 World Series runner-up New York Yankees. He is a special assistant to the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Teaford, an All-Southern Conference selection at GSU, made his major league debut in 2011. The pitcher appeared in 26 games for the Kansas City Royals, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.27 earned-run average.

Smoltz, Greene and Teaford answered questions and told stories for an hour about their experiences in baseball, including their journeys through the minor leagues to the majors.

There were lessons for the children, like Teaford stressing the importance of getting an education.

There were humorous moments, such as Smoltz sharing a story about learning to play the accordion as a 4-year-old and being groomed "to be the next Lawrence Welk." He also told stories about playing golf with his friend Tiger Woods at Augusta National, and about former Braves manager Bobby Cox.

The tone turned serious about 30 minutes into the program, when Smoltz, Greene and Teaford cautioned parents against allowing their children to play a sport year-round because of the damage it can do, physically, mentally and emotionally, to children.

"We play it professionally and it’s not good for our bodies," Smoltz said. "It never will be. It’s one of those things that you do, and you get paid, and you train, and it’s great, but you can’t play it forever. I was lucky. I grew up in Michigan, where summer was a month and winter was like 10 months. I got a chance to play all the sports I wanted.

"And down here in the South, it’s a disservice to have the great weather we have and allow the kids to play spring, summer, fall, winter. They (parents) just don’t get the fact that the body is not meant to play one sport all year. It’s just not. And I think it’s a shame to see kids at 8, 9, 10 and 11 years old, burning themselves out."

Smoltz said he drove with Greene from Atlanta on Thursday. During their trip they discussed the rising number sports-related injuries children are sustaining.

"I was talking with Greenie on the way here," Smoltz said. "There’s a study that shows more 13-year-old kids have dropped out of athletics than ever before. The study is there and we’re just not paying attention to it. The signs are there and we’re not paying attention to it.

"I’ve had a camp for 13 years with 300 kids, at least, every year and parents just don’t understand. They’re trying the best they can for their kids, but you’ve got time. Kids have time. They shouldn’t be making decisions until they’re juniors in high school. They’re making decisions when they’re 8. It’s OK to dream and have a goal, but I think the one thing that saddens me is we are producing adult injuries and surgeries on 12- and 13-year-olds.

"There’s more Tommy Johns than ever in the history of our sport, and there’s a reason for that. It’s not just because we know more. It’s because all of a sudden the myth of having a Tommy John that makes you better or makes you more like John Smoltz, who had a Tommy John in his major league career and not in the minors … to me, it’s an epidemic that needs to be controlled. I don’t know how we do it. But I know that athletes need to get out and encourage kids to try other things, get outdoors, play the sport they want to play and enjoy, and not feel like they have to be professional athletes by the age of 10."

Smoltz said he recently completed work on a book that is being published and will be in stores May 8. He played in 40 postseason games and won a World Series with the Braves in 1995. Smoltz is an eight-time all-star, and won the Cy Young Award in 1996. He became the 16th pitcher in Major League Baseball’s history to strike out 3,000 batters on April 22, 2008, and he is the only pitcher to compile more than 200 wins and more than 150 saves.

Earlier Thursday, Smoltz visited J.I. Clements Stadium and spoke to GSU’s baseball team, which will begin its season Feb. 17.

GSU baseball head coach Rodney Hennon said he was thrilled to have Smoltz visit, and credited Greene for making it happen.

"We want to make it an annual event," Hennon said. "I think it’s a great way to kick off the season and get people thinking about baseball."


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.